The University of Ghana recently hosted over 100 agricultural stakeholders from around the world to discuss the role of young people in farming and food. The conference which ran from 19th to 21 March was dubbed Young People, Farming and Food. It was organized by Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC), an independent learning alliance of academic researchers and practitioners involved in African agriculture.
According to Jim Sumberg, a researcher with FAC, the conference was vital as lately, there is a tremendous policy interest around young people and unemployment issues some which can be addressed through their involvement agriculture.
In the opening session, Professor Clement Ahiadeke of University of Ghana (UOG) emphasized that it is critical for youth to be involved in agriculture today as they are the ones to carry it to the future.
A recurring theme in the conference was how to make farming attractive enough for the youth to take it up as a full time profession. Urbanization was discussed as a cause of youth ignoring agriculture anticipating white collar jobs. Yet even the agri-food processing sector was found to be playing catch up to industrialization.
"Young people need to be supported to take advantage of emerging agricultural opportunities," said Professor Ramatu Al Hassan of UOG’s Department of Agribusiness.
Dr Namanga Ngongi, former Chairman of Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) said low farm productivity as seen in most African farmlands would not appeal to youths to be farmers. He noted that for on-farm productivity to rise, more agricultural investment was needed. Dr Ngongi added that in Africa, there is under-investment in young people who could salvage agriculture if they are supported and reap its gains. “Success in agriculture needs also be constantly highlighted,” said Dr Ngongi to dispel a myth that farming is for the poor or aged.
Another myth the conference sought to dispel was involvement in agriculture by the youth as being restricted in farmlands. Here the whole agricultural value chain was explored as possible avenues for youth to take up as careers in agriculture. Some of the avenues are: agricultural research; extension as well as ICT.
One model showcased at the conference was a Cadbury Cocoa Partnership in Ghana enlisting youth in in their early 20s as Cocoa ambassadors. The ambassadors enlighten other youths in Ghana on Cocoa farming economic viability and its role in community development. This program has 10 youths communicating success of agribusiness to other youths in Cocoa growing regions. This is critical as the average age of a Cocoa farmer is 50 years. The ambassadors are urging the youth to set up nurseries for cocoa trees for a start where they can earn incomes.
Delegates also agreed that youth ought not to be alienated when crafting agricultural policies. That way, policies are more likely to capture the aspirations of the young when made by them. Young agricultural researchers at the conference unanimously agreed that they were likely to be receptive to agriculture if their findings were utilized at farm level than being confined to research institutions shelves as they would feel part of the farming process.
The age range for who is a youth was also contentious. It was however put between 18 to 35 years. The ceremony also awarded the top African journalists in Print and Radio categories for producing pieces exploring the conference theme. The winner in print media category was James Karuga and Geoffrey Onditi was for radio both from Kenya.
Other partners in the conference were New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER).
By James Karuga
The author is a Kenyan freelance journalist.